Chinese classic texts or canonical texts (simplified Chinese: 中国古典典籍; traditional Chinese: 中國古典典籍; pinyin: Zhōngguó gǔdiǎn diǎnjí) refers to the Chinese texts which originated before the imperial unification by the Qin dynasty in 221 BC, particularly the "Four Books and Five Classics" of the Neo-Confucian tradition, themselves a customary abridgment of the "Thirteen Classics". All of these pre-Qin texts were written in classical Chinese. All three canons are collectively known as the classics (t 經, s 经, jīng, lit. "warp").
Chinese classic texts may more broadly refer to texts written either in vernacular Chinese or in the classical Chinese that was current until the fall of the last imperial dynasty, the Qing, in 1912. These can include shi (史, historical works), zi (子, philosophical works belonging to schools of thought other than the Confucian but also including works on agriculture, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, divination, art criticism, and other miscellaneous writings) and ji (集, literary works) as well as jing (Chinese medicine).
In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Four Books and Five Classics were the subject of mandatory study by those Confucian scholars who wished to take the imperial exams to become government officials. Any political discussion was full of references to this background, and one could not be one of the literati (or, in some periods, even a military officer) without having memorized them. Generally, children first memorized the Chinese characters of the "Three Character Classic" and the "Hundred Family Surnames" and then went on to memorize the other classics. The literate elite therefore shared a common culture and set of values.
Scholarship on these texts naturally divides itself into two periods, before and after the burning of the books during the fall of the Qin dynasty, when many of the original pre-Qin texts were lost.
Before 221 BC
It is often difficult or impossible to precisely date pre-Qin works beyond their being "pre-Qin", a period of 1000 years. Information in ancient China was often passed down orally for generations before being written down, so the order of composition of the texts need not be the same as that of their attributed "authors".
The below list is therefore organized in the order found in the Siku Quanshu, the imperial library of the Qing dynasty. The Siku classifies all works into 4 top-level branches: the Confucian Classics and their secondary literature; history; philosophy; and poetry. There are sub-categories within each branch, but due to the small number of pre-Qin works in the Classics, History and Poetry branches, the sub-categories are only reproduced for the Philosophy branch.
|The I Ching (or Book of Changes)||A manual of divination based on the eight trigrams attributed to the mythical figure Fuxi (by at least the time of the early Eastern Zhou these eight trigrams had been multiplied to sixty-four hexagrams). The I Ching is still used by modern adherents of folk religion.|
|The Classic of History or Book of Documents (Shu Jing)||A collection of documents and speeches allegedly from the Xia, Shang and Western Zhou periods, and even earlier. It contains some of the earliest examples of Chinese prose.|
|The Classic of Poetry (Shi Jing)||Made up of 305 poems divided into 160 folk songs, 74 minor festal songs, traditionally sung at court festivities, 31 major festal songs, sung at more solemn court ceremonies, and 40 hymns and eulogies, sung at sacrifices to gods and ancestral spirits of the royal house. This book is traditionally credited as a compilation from Confucius. A standard version, named Maoshi Zhengyi, was compiled in the mid-7th century under the leadership of Kong Yingda.|
|The Three Rites|
|The Rites of Zhou||Conferred the status of a classic in the 12th century (in place of the lost Classic of Music).|
|The Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial (Yi Li)||Describes ancient rites, social forms and court ceremonies.|
|The Classic of Rites (Li Chi)||Describes social forms, administration, and ceremonial rites.|
|The Spring and Autumn Annals||Chronologically the earliest of the annals; comprising about 16,000 characters, it records the events of the State of Lu from 722 BC to 481 BC, with implied condemnation of usurpations, murder, incest, etc.|
|The Zuo zhuan (Commentary of Zuo)||A different report of the same events as the Spring and Autumn Annals with a few significant differences. It covers a longer period than the Spring and Autumn Annals.|
|The Commentary of Gongyang||Another surviving commentary on the same events (see Spring and Autumn Annals).|
|The Commentary of Guliang||Another surviving commentary on the same events (see Spring and Autumn Annals).|
|The Classic of Filial Piety (Xiao Jing)||A small book giving advice on filial piety; how to behave towards a senior (such as a father, an elder brother, or ruler).|
|The Four Books|
|The Mencius (Mengzi)||A book of anecdotes and conversations of Mencius.|
|The Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu)||A twenty-chapter work of dialogues attributed to Confucius and his disciples; traditionally believed to have been written by Confucius's own circle it is thought to have been set down by later Confucian scholars.|
|Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong Yong)||A chapter from the Book of Rites made into an independent work by Zhu Xi|
|The Great Learning||A chapter from the Book of Rites made into an independent work by Zhu Xi|
|The Erya||A dictionary explaining the meaning and interpretation of words in the context of the Confucian Canon.|
|Bamboo Annals||History of Zhou dynasty excavated from a Wei tomb in the Jin dynasty.|
|Yi Zhou Shu||Similar in style to the Book of Documents|
|Discourses of the States (Guoyu)||A collection of historical records of numerous states recorded the period from Western Zhou to 453 BC.|
|The Strategies of the Warring States||Edited by Liu Xiang.|
|Yanzi chunqiu||Attributed to the statesman Yan Ying, a contemporary of Confucius|
|Confucianism (excl. Classics branch)|
|Kongzi Jiayu||Collection of stories about Confucius and his disciples. Authenticity disputed.|
|Xunzi||Attributed to Xun Kuang, an ancient Chinese collection of philosophical writings that makes the distinction between what is born in man and what must be learned through rigorous education.|
|Six Secret Teachings (六韜)||Attributed to Jiang Ziya (Taigong)|
|The Art of War (孫子兵法)||Attributed to Sunzi.|
|Wuzi (吳子)||Attributed to Wu Qi.|
|The Methods of the Sima (司馬法) (Sima Fa)||Attributed to Sima Rangju.|
|Wei Liaozi (尉繚子)||Attributed to Wei Liao.|
|The Three Strategies of Huang Shigong (黃石公三略)||Attributed to Jiang Ziya.|
|The Thirty-Six Stratagems||Recently recovered.|
|Guanzi||Attributed to Guan Zhong.|
|The Book of Lord Shang||Attributed to Shang Yang.|
|Hanfeizi||Attributed to Han Fei.|
|Shenzi||Attributed to Shen Buhai; all but one chapter is lost.|
|The Canon of Laws||Attributed to Li Kui.|
|Mozi||Attributed to the philosopher of the same name, Mozi.|
|Shenzi||Attributed to Shen Dao. It originally consisted of ten volumes and forty-two chapters, of which all but seven chapters have been lost.|
|The Lüshi Chunqiu||An encyclopedic of ancient classics edited by Lü Buwei.|
|Shizi||Attributed to Shi Jiao|
|The Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shan Hai Jing)||A compilation of early geography and myths from various locations.|
|Tale of King Mu, Son of Heaven|
|Dao De Jing||Attributed to Laozi.|
|The Liezi (or Classic of the Perfect Emptiness)||Attributed to Lie Yukou.|
|Zhuangzi||Attributed to the philosopher of the same name, Zhuangzi.|
|Chu Ci||Aside from the Shi Jing (see Classics branch) the only surviving pre-Qin poetry collection. Attributed to the southern state of Chu, and especially Qu Yuan.|
The Thirteeen Classics
The most important pre-Qin works that later became the official curriculum of the imperial examination system from the Song dynasty onward are the Thirteen Classics. This is a slightly different organization of the works of the Classics branch. In total, these works total to more than 600,000 characters that must be memorized in order to pass the examination. Moreover, these works are accompanied by extensive commentary and annotation, containing approximately 300 million characters by some estimates.
- Classic of Changes or I Ching (易經 Yìjīng)
- Book of Documents (書經 Shūjīng)
- Classic of Poetry (詩經 Shījīng)
- The Three Ritual Classics (三禮 Sānlǐ)
- The Three Commentaries on the Spring and Autumn Annals
- The Analects (論語 Lúnyǔ)
- Classic of Filial Piety (孝經 Xiàojīng)
- Erya (爾雅 Ěryǎ)
- Mencius (孟子 Mèngzǐ)
After 206 BC
- The Twenty-Four Histories, a collection of authoritative histories of China for various dynasties:
- The Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian
- The Book of Han by Ban Gu.
- The Book of Later Han by Fan Ye
- The Records of Three Kingdoms by Chen Shou
- The Book of Jin by Fang Xuanling
- The Book of Song by Shen Yue
- The Book of Southern Qi by Xiao Zixian
- The Book of Liang by Yao Silian
- The Book of Chen by Yao Silian
- The History of the Southern Dynasties by Li Yanshou
- The Book of Wei by Wei Shou
- The Book of Zhou by Linghu Defen
- The Book of Northern Qi by Li Baiyao
- The History of the Northern Dynasties by Li Yanshou
- The Book of Sui by Wei Zheng
- The Old Book of Tang by Liu Xu
- The New Book of Tang by Ouyang Xiu
- The Old History of Five Dynasties by Xue Juzheng
- The New History of Five Dynasties by Ouyang Xiu
- The History of Song by Toqto'a
- The History of Liao by Toqto'a
- The History of Jin by Toqto'a
- The History of Yuan by Song Lian
- The History of Ming by Zhang Tingyu
- The Draft History of Qing by Zhao Erxun is usually referred as the 25th classic of history records
- The New History of Yuan by Ke Shaomin is sometimes referred as the 26th classic of history records
- The Chronicles of Huayang, an old record of ancient history and tales of southwestern China, attributed to Chang Qu.
- The Biographies of Exemplary Women, a biographical collection of exemplary women in ancient China, compiled by Liu Xiang.
- The Spring and Autumn Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms, a historical record of the Sixteen Kingdoms, attributed to Cui Hong, is lost.
- The Shiming, is a dictionary compiled by Liu Xi by the end of 2nd century.
- A New Account of the Tales of the World, a collection of historical anecdotes and character sketches of some 600 literati, musicians, and painters.
- The Thirty-Six Strategies, a military strategy book attributed to Tan Daoji.
- The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons (Wen Xin Diao Long), a review book on ancient Chinese literature and writings by Liu Xie.
- The Commentary on the Water Classic, a book on hydrology of rivers in China attributed to the great geographer Li Daoyuan.
- The Dialogues between Li Jing and Tang Taizong, a military strategy book attributed to Li Jing
- The Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government (Zizhi Tongjian), with Sima Guang as its main editor.
- The Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue, a historical record of the states of Wu and Yue during the Spring and Autumn period, attributed to Zhao Ye.
- The Zhenguan Zhengyao, a record of governance strategies and leadership of Emperor Taizong of Tang, attributed to Wu Jing.
- The Jiaoshi Yilin, a work modelled after the I Ching, composed during the Western Han Dynasty and attributed to Jiao Yanshou.
- The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art, a mathematics Chinese book composed by several generations scholars of Han Dynasty.
- The Thousand Character Classic, attributed to Zhou Xingsi.
- The Treatise on Astrology of the Kaiyuan Era, compiled by Gautama Siddha, is a Chinese encyclopedia on astrology and divination.
- The Shitong, written by Liu Zhiji, a work on historiography.
- The Tongdian, written by Du You, a contemporary text focused on the Tang dynasty.
- The Tang Huiyao, compiled by Wang Pu, a text based on the institutional history of the Tang dynasty.
- The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, compiled by Bianji; a recount of Xuanzang's journey.
- The Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang, written by Duan Chengshi, records fantastic stories, anecdotes, and exotic customs.
- The Four Great Books of Song, a term referring to the four large compilations during the beginning of Song dynasty:
- The Dream Pool Essay, a collection of essays on science, technology, military strategies, history, politics, music and arts, written by Shen Kuo.
- The Exploitation of the Works of Nature, an encyclopedia compiled by Song Yingxing.
- The Compendium of Materia Medica, a classic book of medicine written by Li Shizhen.
- The Siku Quanshu, the largest compilation of literature in Chinese history.
- The New Songs from the Jade Terrace, a poetry collection from the Six Dynasties period.
- The Quan Tangshi, or Collected Tang Poems, compiled during the Qing dynasty, published AD 1705.
- The Xiaolin Guangji, a collection of jokes compiled during the Qing dynasty.
- Yong, Rong (2016). Siku Quanshu Jianming Mulu 四庫全書簡明目錄. Shanghai Kexue Jishu Wenxian Chubanshe.
- Endymion Wilkinson. Chinese History: A New Manual. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series. New Edition; Second, Revised printing March 2013). ISBN 9780674067158 ISBN 0674067150. See esp. pp. 365– 377, Ch. 28, "The Confucian Classics."
- Chinese Text Project (English Chinese) (Chinese philosophy texts in classical Chinese with English and modern Chinese translations)
- Chinese Classics (James Legge's translations of the Analects of Confucius, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Works of Mencius and the Tao Te Ching)
- The Canonical Books of Confucianism, David K. Jordan
- Relevant Electronic Resources for Chinese Classical Studies